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Ranking the Twilight Zone

I’m engaged in a noble project with my twelve-year old daughter: watching every single Twilight Zone episode and ranking them. We watch and run them through a rubric to give them a score from 0 to 7. The episodes are graded in three categories: Concept/Plot/Characters (4 points), Tone (1 point), and The Twist (2 points).

The episodes this time were from Volume 1 and 9 of the DVD collection.

Nick of Time (Season Two, 1960)
This is one of two Twilight Zone episodes starring William Shatner, and perhaps I’ve let that color my thinking on it, because my daughter said this episode was just okay, while I think it’s great. How can an episode with Captain Kirk not be awesome? Anyway, Don Carter (Shatner) and his newlywed spouse, Pat, are driving to New York for their honeymoon from St. Louis. On the way, they have car trouble and stop in a small town in Ohio. The mechanic doesn’t have the part they need, so they’re stuck their a while. They decide to eat lunch in a cafe where they sit at a table with a penny-fed fortune telling machine. The fortunes are vague, rather like fortune cookies–but not that vague. In fact, if you read them right, they seem to predict that when Don will get good news when he calls back to the office in St. Louis to see if he got the promotion he was vying for–and he does get the promotion. The fortunes also seem to predict their car will be repaired sooner then expected, and that happens as well, and other things around town seem to come true as well. Coincidence, or something more? Before the afternoon is over, Don is obsessed with the fortune telling machine, convinced it can predict every aspect of his life.
Concept/Plot/Characters—Don and Pat are credible as a young couple in love (and Shatner looks so much younger here than as Captain Kirk, five years later!), and the plot moves along briskly. The dialogue is fun. I think the concept here is just a bit corny, though. I mean, it’s a little strained that the diner happens to have these fortune telling machines. Maybe they were common in the 1950s and 1960s? I’ve never seen one. Anyway, a pretty interesting episode. (3 points)
Tone–
I do think the episode and Shatner’s acting realistically portray a man gradually getting sucked into something that appears silly on the outside, but that appears to him to be meaningful. Let’s call it obsession. (1 point)
The Twist–
The twist here fits okay, but it’s a little weak. (1 point)
Theme–
Predictions
Total=5.0 points (Pretty Good)

My daughter says this one is Okay, but I don’t care, I say it’s Pretty Good. Overall a fun and interesting episode, even if the twist isn’t that exciting.

The Invaders (Season Two, 1961)
A simple plot. A woman lives by herself in an isolated farmhouse. One night, there’s a strange, headache-inducing noise and a thump on the roof. The woman climbs the ladder to the roof and finds a small flying saucer. A tiny alien astronaut, about a foot high, zaps her with something that causes boils to form on her skin. She knocks him off the roof, but back in the house two more astronauts are hunting her. It’s a fight for survival as she goes through the rooms of the house, trying to find the tiny invaders before they can kill her.
Concept/Plot/Characters—This is one that relies entirely on atmosphere. There’s no dialogue, just the woman all alone, trying to survive as she moves through her house. An admirable effort in maintaining tension with no speaking, mostly but not entirely successful as it does drag a bit in the middle, the woman very slowly opening doors or looking under beds. Not really any character development or anything, either–we know practically nothing about the woman except her immediate situation. The special effects here are dated to the point of being laughable. (2.5 points)
Tone–
Does a great job of showing the isolation of the farmhouse and the fright of the woman as she’s being hunted. (1 point)
The Twist–
The twist here redeems what could have felt like a pointless exercise in tension. Truly one of the great shock endings of the Twilight Zone series. (2 points)
Theme–
Aliens
Total=5.5 points (Pretty Good)

Not quite as good as I remembered it–I thought my daughter would be more scared, but she was mostly bored. We both agreed on the excellence of the ending, though.

8 Comments on “Ranking the Twilight Zone

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